Monday, June 11, 2012

Batman in the 1970s Part 22: 1972 wrapup

by Peter Enfantino &
Jack Seabrook

Batman and Detective Comics with cover dates in 1972 showed that DC was going through changes in its attempt to combat lagging sales and tough competition from Marvel. As the year began, the standard size of a comic book at DC was 52 pages and the price was 25 cents. This experiment failed, so page count was decreased to 36 and price was lowered to 20 cents as of July (Detective) and August (Batman, because there was no July issue).

The Giant Batman issues of prior years were gone, replaced in January with a 100-Page Super Spectacular for 50 cents. It featured an entire lineup of reprints and no ads except those for other DC comics, as well as a beautiful wraparound cover by Neal Adams. Adams drew 7 covers for Batman and 4 for Detective. Other cover artists were Mike Kaluta (6), Berni Wrightson, Frank Robbins, Jim Aparo, and Dave Cockrum (1 each). One Adams cover was inked by Dick Giordano, one by Alan Kupperberg, and one is credited to both.

In addition to the all-reprint, 100-page issue, there were eight issues of Batman that featured new content; the 52 page issues also had reprints of old Batman stories. Detective continued to publish 12 monthly issues this year, each with a lead story featuring Batman. In Batman, there were new backup stories starring Robin (6); writers were Mike Friedrich (4) and Elliot Maggin (2). The Robin stories were pencilled by Rich Buckler (4) or Irv Novick (2) with inks by Buckler (2, over his own pencils) or Dick Giordano (4).

Batman lead stories were written by Denny O'Neil (7) or Frank Robbins (1); pencils were by Irv Novick (5), Neal Adams (3), or Dick Dillin (part of 1); all inks were by Dick Giordano. The letters column in the 100-page issue was called Giant Batmail and ran one page; the other issues included Letters to the Batman of either one or two pages.

All twelve issues of Detective featured a Batman lead story. Writers were Frank Robbins (9) and Denny O'Neil (3). Pencils were by Bob Brown (5), Frank Robbins (4), and Irv Novick (3); inks were by Dick Giordano (7), Frank Robbins (4), or Nick Cardy (1). The Batman stories ran 14 to 17 pages each. Each issue featured a letters column called Batman's Hot Line, running one or two pages.

The new backup stories began to vary. For the first six months, Batgirl was featured, written by Frank Robbins and drawn by Don Heck. Batgirl's detective boyfriend Jason Bard then appeared in three stories by the same team of Robbins and Heck (with inks by Joe Giella in the third). Elongated Man appeared in two stories, one written by Len Wein and the other by E. Nelson Bridwell. Both were drawn by Dick Giordano. Finally, Hawkman appeared in one story, written by Bridwell, with pencils by Dillin and inks by Giella.

Circulation in the March Detective was said to have been based on the issue prior to October 1, 1971; 184,281 copies were sold and 164,960 returned.

Highlights of the year's stories included an appearance by Man-Bat in Detective 429 (Nov.) and a four-issue story arc with Ra's Al Ghul in Batman  240, 242, 243, and 244 (Mar., June, Aug., and Sept.).

It was clear that DC and Batman were going through a difficult period in 1972, trying out the 100-page format, sticking with the 52-page format until it could no longer be tolerated, and going to a 36-page format with a price that matched Marvel's price beginning at mid-year.

The quality of the stories and art was clearly superior in Batman; Detective suffered from inferior stories and art, especially in the issues where Frank Robbins wrote and drew the Batman leads. The Batgirl backup series petered out and was replaced with three rotating series. The Robin backup series briefly shone with art by Rich Buckler but this did not even last six months. While Neal Adams drew three stories for Batman and a total of 11 covers, the real excitement in the art came from new names like Mike Kaluta, Berni Wrightson, and Jim Aparo. Kaluta and Aparo, especially, would become more important in defining the look of Batman in the ensuing years of the 1970s.

The next year, 1973, would see even more significant changes.

Note: The covers reproduced here are all by Neal Adams, showing his Batman work on other series in 1972.


Matthew Bradley said...

I love a good wrap-up. This looks like something I would do. Whether you consider that a compliment or not is up to you. :-)

Jack Seabrook said...

Thanks--we'll take it as a compliment!